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Charlotte gets lessons in paying for the arts from other cities

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  • Arts advice from Denver

    Peg Long of the Denver Scientific & Cultural Facilities, had these suggestions for the Cultural Life Task Force as it seeks sustainable funding for Charlotte’s cultural sector:

    •  Don’t duplicate what other communities are doing. Conduct polling, focus groups and surveys on what residents value. What type of taxes, if any, would be most/least palatable?

    •  Preserve flexibility. Be clear enough without being too restrictive.

    •  Begin with strict eligibility criteria, it can be relaxed later.

    •  Formulas can promote objectivity, transparency and accountability, but can also lead to a sense of entitlement.



A Charlotte task force studying how to find money for arts and cultural offerings learned on Monday how other cities face the challenge.

The Cultural Life Task Force – the 22-member group working to find sustainable funding for Charlotte’s culture sector – heard from four cities about how they keep their own arts, culture and sciences programs thriving.

While Cincinnati has a combined arts fund similar to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council, Denver earmarks sales tax money for the arts. Dallas and Nashville, Tenn., support the arts through city departments.

Here’s a rundown:

Cincinnati

Mary McCullough Hudson, president of ArtsWave in Cincinnati, said the organization receives no public or government money and is dependent on corporate giving.

ArtsWave serves a 15-county metro area and distributes $10.2 million in grants to more than 100 organizations, ranging from what Hudson called very small grants to up to $3 million.

Hudson said ArtsWave was formerly the Fine Arts Fund, but rebranded itself in 2007 to diversify and grow resources.

A survey of about 400 people showed “People don’t know what we mean when we say ‘arts,’ ” Hudson said. “When they figure out what we mean, they think about ‘entertainment.’ The problem is, entertainment has personal value, not public value.”

Hudson said the organization’s goals have been a more connected and engaged community and a more vibrant economy. “We’ve got to get out of the ‘nice’ column and into the ‘necessary’ column.”

Charlotte’s ASC distributed nearly $7 million to 23 organizations in this fiscal year.

Nashville

Metro Nashville Arts Commission Executive Director Jennifer Cole said the organization is a division of metro government. The commission functions like a city office but does not own major cultural facilities or carry that debt, she said.

While it receives $2.6 million from the city, Cole said, it is the only department able to raise private dollars. Of that $2.6 million, Cole said, 75 percent goes out in grants from $1,000 to $130,000 to more than 60 organizations. “We get big results for small amounts of money.”

Cole said the commission has seen an increase in city funding over the past two years.

Dallas

Maria Munoz Blanco, director of the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, said their funding is a mix from the city, private philanthropy, business sector and earned revenue. The staff are city employees who work in four areas for the city manager: cultural facilities, cultural contracts (grants to organizations), public art and classical radio.

Its budget was $18.6 million. The office owns the majority of cultural buildings and Blanco said about 74 percent, roughly $13.8 million, of the department’s annual budget goes to facility-related expenditures. But the city subsidies for facility operations frees up organizations to raise program funds, Blanco said.

City funding represents less than 10 percent of the overall revenue mix with individual giving constituting the largest share.

Blanco said they distribute grants ranging from $1,000 to $2.5 million

Denver

Peg Long, executive director of the Denver Scientific & Cultural Facilities District, said they receive 1 cent from every $10 in sales tax. Established in 1988, voters have approved the model twice since then and Long estimated it took nearly a decade to get in place.

The district covers seven metro counties and, Long said, 99.25 percent of the funding is distributed to arts, cultural and science programs in grants of $500 to more than $7 million. The money can be used for operating expenses and activities, but not capital projects or to pay balances.

Only voters can change the amount of the tax and the funding model will be back on the ballot in 2016 for approval, Long said.

Charlotte task force co-chair Valecia McDowell said one message resonated with task force members. “One thing that came through loud and clear is the importance of communicating with the community so the arts and cultural sector is delivering what the community is looking for,” she said.

“We’ve been a public/private partnership so long, it was eye-opening to hear how other communities are handling these challenges.”

Charlotte faces many of the same issues Cincinnati does, McDowell said, such as diversifying cultural offerings and locations of services being offered.

McDowell said the next steps for the task force will be defining what its funding model should look like, likely at their next meeting in September.

“We’ve been in listening mode, how endowments work, how government funding works,” she said. “Today marks a turning point for us.”

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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